Unholy War follows ordinary people caught up in the tumultuous events of East Belfast from 1920—22. It’s a nuanced study in how the past has shaped the present.
The drama project from The Bright Umbrella Drama Company was funded through the Community Relations Council (CRC) Small Grants Scheme.
“This period of the history of East Belfast is not well known and yet the huge demographic shifts of the time and the political positions that were adopted still affect us today,” said artistic director Trevor Gill. “The broader challenge of the piece was to ask if we will learn from our past or are we condemned to make the same mistakes over and over again?”
25 people came together
Twenty-five people were involved in the Community Relations drama project to develop and perform a script about events that happened 100 years ago in Mountpottinger/Short Strand. A key theme explored is how those events have a far-reaching impact still felt to this day.
“This was piece was devised by the historian Philip Orr who has a particular interest in the history of Northern Ireland between the wars,” explained Trevor. “We also conducted our own research and involved our cast in discussions and guided walks of East Belfast – particularly the Short Strand and Mount areas.”
But the project met production challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic when plans to present the drama live were abandoned.
“Restrictive Covid-19 regulations meant that we had to take the project fully online,” Trevor said. “The original idea had been to present Unholy War as a live theatre show. When this became impossible we filmed the production instead.”
The Bright Umbrella Drama Company’s “Little Theatre” is right on the main interface between The Mount and Short Strand in East Belfast, and the production cast learned a lot about the history of the locality.
Events that shaped the history of the area
“It was interesting to learn that many of the events that shaped the history of the area and of Northern Ireland more widely happened right outside our door,” Trevor said. “We learned, or were reminded, that the East Belfast shipyards were always a focal point for prevalent Loyalist public opinion and often a tinderbox where trouble first manifested itself.”
The story highlighted in Unholy War is even more pressing now given the coming centenary of Northern Ireland.
"As Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw said, ‘We learn from history that we learn nothing from history,’" Trevor answered. “This is a cycle that we must do our best to combat. In Northern Ireland, the past teaches us that, in the end, it is only dialogue that will bring peace – conflict will not do it, eventually everyone will have to sit around a table together.”
CRC funding helped the production of Unholy War to develop and take shape.
“The production would not have been possible without CRC funding,” Trevor said. “We are particularly grateful for the Council’s flexibility when we faced difficulties with the coronavirus pandemic and had to change our delivery method from live theatre to film.”
Those interested in forthcoming Bright Umbrella Drama Company productions can follow the company’s progress here: www.brightumbrella.co.uk